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HMS Agincourt in the Great War - The Wartime Memories Project -

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- HMS Agincourt during the Great War -

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HMS Agincourt


HMS Agincourt with Erin in background

HMS Agincourt was a dreadnought battleship built in the United Kingdom in the early 1910s as part of Brazil's role in a South American naval arms race, she held the distinction of mounting more heavy guns (fourteen) and more turrets (seven) than any other dreadnought battleship constructed, in keeping with the Brazilians' requirement for an especially impressive design. Brazil ordered the ship as The Rio de Janeiro and she was laid down on 14 September 1911 by Armstrongs in Newcastle upon Tyne and launched on 22 January 1913. But the collapse of the rubber boom and a warming in relations with the country's chief rival, Argentina, led to the ship's sale while under construction to the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman Navy renamed her Sultan Osman I, after the empire's founder. The ship was nearly complete when World War I broke out, and was undergoing sea trials before delivery. The Ottoman crew arrived to collect her, the Turkish captain, waiting with five hundred Turkish sailors aboard a transport in the Tyne, threatened to board his ships and hoist the Turkish flag; Churchill gave orders to resist such an attempt “by armed force if necessary.” the British Admiralty fears of a German–Ottoman alliance led to her seizure for use by the Royal Navy. This act was a significant contributor to the decision of the Ottoman government to join the Central Powers, as the payments for the ship and another which would become HMS Erin were complete, and distrust of Britain increased. Such an action was allowed for in the contracts, as First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill had not wanted to risk the ships being used against the British, but it had consequences. The takeover caused considerable ill will in the Ottoman Empire, where public subscriptions had partially funded the ships. When the Ottoman government had been in a financial deadlock over the budget of the battleships, donations for the Ottoman Navy had come in from taverns, cafés, schools and markets, and large donations were rewarded with a "Navy Donation Medal". The seizure, and the gift of the German battlecruiser Goeben to the Ottomans, influenced public opinion in the Empire to turn away from Britain, and they entered the war on the side of Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire against the Triple Entente of Britain, France, and Russia on 29th of October 1914, after Goeben had attacked Russian facilities in the Black Sea.

The Royal Navy made modifications to Agincourt before her commissioning, in particular removing the flying bridge over the two centre turrets. The ship was also initially fitted with Turkish-style lavatories that had to be replaced. Her name, Agincourt, was a favourite of Churchill's, and had initially been allocated to a sixth vessel of the Queen Elizabeth class ordered under the 1914–15 Naval Estimates, but not yet begun at the war's outbreak. Her nickname, The Gin Palace, came from her luxurious fittings and a corruption of her name (A Gin Court), pink gin being a popular drink among Royal Navy officers at the time. The Admiralty was unprepared to man a ship of Agincourt's size at such short notice and her crew was drawn from the highest and lowest echelons of the service: the Royal yachts and the detention barracks. Agincourt's captain, Captain Douglas Romily Lothian Nicholson and executive officer came from HMY Victoria and Albert III, most of whose crew was also transferred to Agincourt on 3rd of August 1914. Most of the naval reservists had already been called up by this time and sent to other ships so a number of minor criminals who had had their sentences remitted were received from various naval prisons and detention camps.

Agincourt was working up until 7th of September 1914, when she joined the 4th Battle Squadron of the Grand Fleet. The fleet anchorage at Scapa Flow was not yet secure against submarine attack and much of the fleet was kept at sea, where Agincourt spent forty of her first eighty days with the Grand Fleet. This was the beginning of a year and a half of inaction, only broken by occasional North Sea 'sweeps' intended to draw the enemy from his bases. The ship spent the bulk of her time during the war on patrols and exercises. On 1st of January 1915, Agincourt was still assigned to the 4th BS, but was assigned to the 1st Battle Squadron before the Battle of Jutland on 31st of May 1916.

Although the Grand Fleet made several sorties over the next few years it is not known if Agincourt participated in them. On 23 April 1918, Agincourt and Hercules were stationed at Scapa Flow to provide cover for the Scandinavian convoys between Norway and Britain when the High Seas Fleet sortied in an attempt to destroy the convoy. The reports from German Intelligence were slightly off schedule, as both the inbound and outbound convoys were in port when the Germans reached their normal route so Admiral Scheer ordered the fleet to return to Germany without spotting any British ships.

Agincourt was later transferred to the 2nd Battle Squadron and was present at the surrender of the High Seas Fleet on 21 November 1918. She was placed in reserve at Rosyth in March 1919. After unsuccessful attempts to sell her to the Brazilian Government, she was listed for disposal in April 1921, but was used for experimental purposes later that year. She was sold for scrap on 19 December 1922 to comply with the tonnage limitations of the Washington Naval Treaty, although she was not actually broken up until the end of 1924.

John Doran

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